Steps to Keep Your Lower Back in Shape

There are many contributors to lower back pain. Aging, obesity, weight gain during pregnancy, stress, poor physical condition and smoking are common factors. Conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis can also play a part.

Then there’s posture. Damage caused by repeated bending and flattening (as opposed to arching) of the lower spine is the leading producer of chronic lower back pain.

“It’s all about body mechanics and muscle memory,” says Dr. Tadhg O’Gara, MD, orthopaedic surgeon. “It’s very hard for people to change the way they sit, stand and move, but that’s often what it takes when it comes to lower back pain.”

Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Lower Back Healthy

  • Do low-impact exercises appropriate for your age and physical condition. Walking, swimming and riding a stationary bike, for example, can improve back muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Stretch lightly before beginning any strenuous physical activity. Remember that stretching backward is as important—if not more so—than stretching forward.
  • When standing or sitting, try to keep your spinal extensor muscles—the muscles that run on both sides of your spine—activated. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet and relax your abdomen. Don’t suck in your belly.
  • At home or work, make sure your work surface is at a comfortable height. Try a standing desk.
  • When sitting in a chair, keep your back arched and your feet on the floor. Don’t rely on the chair’s back; sit up as if you’re on a stool. Periodically get up and walk around or gently stretch backward.
  • Sleep on a firm surface. Sleeping on your stomach is ideal for the lower back. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs and try to keep your back arched. If you sleep on your back, place a small pillow or rolled-up towel under the small of your back.
  • Don’t try to lift objects too heavy for you. Keep your back arched and maintain that arch while lifting. Use your knees and hips for power, not your back. Keep the object you’re lifting close to your body and don’t twist your torso while lifting.